BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — On Monday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Adviser to President Joe Biden, announced that he is leaving his position. He said he is also retiring as the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
UAB Infectious Disease Expert Dr. Michael Saag has worked closely with Fauci. Saag said they started working together since the late 1980s, digging through the uncharted territory of diseases they both had to study along the way in their roles at the NIAID.
“He’s the kind of guy who I don’t think will ever quit working on science,” Saag said. “It’s just who he is.”
Saag said Fauci’s announcement to step down from his government leadership role will give him more time to focus on his work with infectious diseases.
“There’s a lot of needs that we still have, and I think his energy will be much more focused on the day-to-day operations of his lab,” Saag said.
The two worked to combat HIV and AIDS – he said Fauci led the way to turn it from a death sentence to a manageable condition. Saag said Fauci’s work with the COVID-19 pandemic is largely misunderstood.
“I don’t think the country fully appreciates the enormous contributions that Dr. Fauci has made especially since a lot of people just started hearing of him in the world of COVID,” Saag said. “He was really unmoved by the politics and fought against misinformation and I think that rubbed some people the wrong way because he wouldn’t say things that they wanted to hear.”
Dr. Wes Stubblefield, the District Medical Officer at the Alabama Department of Public Health, said that is what happens when you are continually learning about a new disease in real time.
“There was a lot to learn and with other diseases we had decades or even centuries to learn about them and we’ve only had a short amount of time with this virus,” Stubblefield said. “We’re talking about someone that’s had a wealth of experience and knowledge and someone that’s been able to remain relatively cool under pressure which is unusual.”
Both doctors said Fauci has paved the way in his decades serving public health.
“I celebrate him, I look forward to whoever his replacement is, but I don’t envy his replacement because those are mighty big shoes to fill,” Saag said.
Stubblefield said the impact will be felt by Fauci stepping down, but not in ADPH daily operations.
“On a day-to-day basis I don’t think it changes that much for us, although we all continue to have our challenges now with a couple of different outbreaks. One pandemic and one outbreak at the same time,” Stubblefield said.
Saag said Fauci is a passionate supporter UAB science and has appointed several faculty members from the school to oversee the National Institutes of Health, which conducts medical research regarding health across the United States.